DISCLAIMER: I own nothing. I just take Otalia out from time to time to placate my impatience.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank You: DiNovia for the encouraging words and grammar googling.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Fiercest Calm
By DJ Shiva
Three Days Ago...
"You, young man, have some very persistent people around you." Doris Wolfe tipped her head and stared at the nervous boy sitting across the grey table. She looked down and casually shuffled through the file folder sitting in front of her. "Fortunately for you, there is actually some merit to giving you some leeway. You can thank Jefferey O' Neill for that."
Rafe shuffled his feet under the desk as he scratched the back of his head, a nervous tic he shared with his mother. "I...I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything. It's what you do that counts right now, Mr. Rivera." The mayor leaned forward and scrutinized him with a careful glare. "Conduct yourself carefully, and you are that much closer to getting out of here for good. Don't screw it up."
Doris rose from her seat with an imperial air. Rafe moved to stand as well, but caught the movement of the guard from the corner of his eye, and suddenly thought better of it. Still, he couldn't stop himself from asking the obvious question.
"Why now? My lawyer said there was nothing he could do."
She picked up her briefcase, narrowing her eyes in consideration. "Olivia Spencer is a very convincing woman," she said simply, turning and motioning to the guard to open the cell door.
Rafe stared after her, and remembering the times she had chastised him to silence, he laughed quietly to himself.
"Yeah, she is."
Natalia stood there for a split second, convinced the sight that greeted her was a dream, and thanked God for Olivia's hand on her shoulder. She wasn't sure her own legs could keep her upright without the strength Olivia gave her with that simple gesture. But when Rafe cracked a smile, his father's image in his face, Natalia shook herself out of her state of shock and took two steps forward, wrapping her arms tightly around him. She couldn't stop saying his name.
"Raphael...my Raphael...you are here!" First a shout, then a whisper and then it was just Natalia and her son, quietly grasping each other.
Olivia stepped back from the doorway, giving them space, as she wiped the tears from her eyes that had formed upon Natalia's exclamations of joy. Hearing her voice, filled with such happiness and love, was an epiphany; her heart climbed in its cage and settled somewhere in her throat. When Natalia released her son, putting an arm around his shoulders to guide him inside, she looked up with a smile so wide Olivia thought her heart might actually burst.
THIS is love. All of it. The whole kit and caboodle.
I am done for.
Olivia stepped back further into the kitchen to let them in. She had been so lost in the emotions and thoughts swirling inside her head, she only then began to notice that Natalia was babbling excitedly. She couldn't help but laugh, at Natalia, at her elation, at the joy of it all.
The ecstatic woman led Rafe to the kitchen table as Olivia stepped forward and offered a hand to take his duffel bag. "Welcome home, Rafe," she said with a welcoming grin. Placing the bag aside, she motioned toward Natalia with a nod as her grin turned teasing. "You might wanna get her to sit down, too. I think she might just faint from all the excitement."
Brown eyes looked up and returned her teasing. "If I did, you'd probably just step over me to get to the cookies."
Rafe looked back and forth between the women and just smiled, shaking his head in amusement. All three settled into their chairs as a room already filled with love was now filled with laughter. Curiosity took its place as Natalia grasped her son's hands in her own. "How?" It was all she could say as the depths of her eyes spilled forth with tears.
"They moved up my review date," he shrugged. "When I showed up for review, they told me I had points for good behavior, so they were setting me up on work release." He slid his hands from Natalia's grasp and looked at the tabletop as he began to fidget. His mother ducked her head to gain his attention, locking onto him with a wary stare.
"Work release? So this isn't...it's not permanent." It was a statement, not a question. The air in the room began to thicken as the realization sank in.
Olivia couldn't stand to watch her lose her newly found hope. "Natalia, this is great! If they would let him out for work release, that means they trust him enough to do it, right?" She turned toward Rafe, the question implicit in her eyes. Rafe nodded emphatically.
"Right! If I do it right...stay out of trouble, do my work and report back at my scheduled time, they said I could be released for good in six months." He slowly reached for Natalia's shaking hands, taking them lovingly in his own. "Mom, I won't mess this up, I promise."
Natalia looked at him, sadness underpinning her gaze, but slowly the faintest hint of dimples shone on her cheeks as a smile crept across her face. She sighed, composing herself once more and leaning up from her chair to plant a kiss on his forehead. "I love you, Rafe. I believe in you and I know you will work hard. All that matters is that you are here now." She looked up from her son with such pride on her face, as Olivia sat back in her chair to take in mother and son in this moment. Suddenly, she remembered her manners, getting up from her chair and heading toward the refrigerator. Opening the door, she motioned into it.
"I'm sorry Rafe, do you want anything to drink? Maybe a turkey sandwich? Or we could put your mom to work baking something. You know how she loves baking cookies." Olivia winked at Natalia, who stuck out her tongue and crossed her eyes in response. Rafe sat with an inscrutable grin on his face as he watched his mother and Olivia teasing each other. His eyebrows dipped inquisitively as he found himself charmed by their playfulness. Something had changed in both of them, he just couldn't quite put his finger on it.
"Maybe some coffee? I would give anything for a decent cup of coffee after choking down that sludge they serve in the prison cafeteria." The thought of a rich cup of dark brew made him salivate, as Olivia picked up a bag of beans and shook it.
"Your barista recommends the French Roast. Would you like room for cream?" Rafe nodded his head with a chuckle, again struck by the sense of ease and comfort Olivia was displaying. This wasn't the Olivia he had expected, cold and proper and very intimidating; instead she was thoughtful and informal and fun. He turned to his mother to ask what she had done with the real Olivia Spencer, when a thoughtful look crossed her face and she turned to him, speaking in measured tones.
"Your review wasn't supposed to be for a few months. Why did they move it up?" Her joy at Rafe's homecoming suddenly tempered by her remembrance of Frank's words; that he would get Rafe out of prison so she could walk down the aisle with her son. She remembered the twinge of...what? Manipulation. The word popped into her head unbidden, her happiness sinking into the reality that she still had not given Frank an answer, and now she felt as if she was being pushed. Pushed by Frank's misguided attempt to win her love, instead of...
Instead of being pulled into the depths of her.
Knocked out of her burgeoning anger at Frank, and sinking into thoughts of Olivia, Natalia shook her head gently to clear it. Looking back up at Rafe expectantly, she prodded him again. "Why did they move up your review?"
Rafe's eyes looked up and met Olivia's as she stopped suddenly in the midst of her coffee preparation. She hadn't been sure if her power play on Doris had actually been the catalyst for all of this until she saw it in his eyes: gratitude. Panic rose in her throat as she knit her eyebrows and gave him an almost imperceptible shake of her head. Though confused by her unwillingness to take credit for his release, Rafe caught her message loud and clear. "I...I'm not sure." He looked down, dissembling as Natalia looked up at Olivia and then back at Rafe.
"You don't know? They didn't tell you who...why they moved the review date?" Natalia felt horrible for thinking it, but right now the last person she wanted to be indebted to was Frank. His earnestness would be adorable from a brother, but from a suitor, it was...tedious. I really have been around Olivia too long. I am turning into a snob. Her joking inner dialogue fell flat, as her mounting suspicion overcame it.
Natalia's contemplation was interrupted by a joyous squeal from the hallway. "Rafe!!!" Emma ran into the kitchen, breezing past her mother, as Rafe stood to greet her. Her momentum threatened to bowl him over as she jumped at him in a suffocating hug like only children can manage. "You're home!"
Rafe swept her up with a huge smile, putting his forehead to hers and saying softly, "Hi."
Olivia took it all in. There they were. A family. Together, with a few hitches, but together.
So THIS is happy.
Once again wiping her eyes, she realized only one thing could make this better.
"Who's up for ice cream sundaes?"
And as the room erupted with shouts of jubilation, Olivia's eyes searched for Natalia's. Hazel met brown, both shrouded in tears, as they stood gazing at each other for just a moment, until both of them burst into grins and turned to join their children in celebrating ice cream, and family, and home.
Rafe Rivera sat back in his chair at the ice cream parlor, watching everyone digging into their sundaes, and finding himself overwhelmed. He had been stuck in that tiny cell for months; grey, noise and cold, the hallmarks of his daily existence. He knew that right now his mother was cautiously happy, but it was good enough for him, just seeing that beautiful smile on her face again. He had thought long and hard, all those nights laying on the hard bunk of his cell, surrounded by the stench of sweat and the random sounds of the other inmates. He had been so mad at the world back then, willing to throw it all away for a twisted vision of keeping his father's name unsullied.
It had taken some time, but he had finally grasped the fact that his methods were hotheaded and even selfish. Once upon a time he had thought his actions noble, but that was until he heard his mother's voice break at his sentencing, and saw the sorrow written in new lines on her face each time she came to visit. He could see it in her eyes, her need to touch him, to hold him, but kept apart by the watchful eyes of the prison guards. He would rather not admit it to her, but it killed him, too. His mother had always been his world, and it took being forcefully separated from her by concrete and bars for him to truly understand that to put his own life at risk, was to destroy hers. He knew she forgave him for his youthful stupidity, but he still felt the weight of guilt on his heart, and hoped that he was strong enough to truly earn the faith she had in him. Not because he was her son, but because he was a good man.
"You sure you can't have just a taste? I feel so bad." Olivia motioned to her sundae, chastising herself for forgetting Rafe's diabetes and suggesting ice cream to celebrate.
"Hey, I have watched people eat ice cream in front of me for years. And if I even thought about eating any of that, I think mom might kill me. Or you."
"Oh, it wouldn't be the first time she wanted to kill me, I'm sure." Olivia shot a sideways smile at his mom, as Natalia affirmed the truth of that statement with a short nod and a dimpled smile.
Rafe was still taken aback at seeing this new side of Olivia, almost as much as he was surprised at the casual ease and obvious care that she and his mother exhibited toward each other. The Olivia he had known was intense, a bit scary, and sometimes a little crazy. It was difficult for Rafe to reconcile the woman seated in the booth across from him with the Olivia that had played such a part in attempting to wreck his parents' relationship. He could barely believe the air of trust that surrounded the two women. Their rapport was obvious; warm and trusting, sometimes playful. Something had shifted between them, and although he couldn't quite understand it, he realized that the smiles on his mother's face were not only because of him.
Olivia wrapped her arms protectively around her ice cream. "I will make the sacrifice of eating this entire banana split if it means saving your life," she deadpanned. Olivia snickered and dug into her ice cream with vigor. A raised eyebrow and another smile aimed at his mother brought forth a shy giggle and a glint in her eyes that cast a youthful glow across her face. And there was something else. Some flash of emotion he couldn't read that piqued his curiosity. Rafe couldn't quite discern when he had seen her look that young and happy. He sighed to himself, content to just accept her joy and take things one step at a time. Right now wasn't the time to psychoanalyze his own mother. He had so very little time with her; he planned on enjoying it.
He looked up to see the expression on his mother's face change in an instant as she regarded him quickly saddening eyes. "So I know I should be happy to have you three days out of the week, but I...I can't help but want more."
The mood at the table was pulled down by gravity. He grasped at the fleeting edges of the previous joy.
No, Mom. I will not let you wallow in guilt. Not this time.
"Me too. But it's a really great deal. Three days away from that place every week, I get to hang out with you, and I will be working. They are setting me up to do clerical work at City Hall." Rafe laughed sarcastically. "I think they just want me close so they can keep an eye on me."
"Well, at least they aren't making you wear one of those fetching ankle bracelets." Rafe glanced over at Olivia as she catered to his obvious need for levity.
"Yeah, I still have to call in from a land-line and check in after work, but it feels so good to be out of that cell. I think I can manage."
Happiness returned to Natalia's eyes, and Rafe felt his body relax. He hadn't even realized how much it affected him to see her bearing the weight of his mistakes.
"And if this works out--"
"WHEN--" His mother corrected him forcefully.
"WHEN this works out, OK mom?" Rafe teased her lightly. "Then it's only a few months until I am out permanently. I will still have to report to a probation officer, but that's easy. Everyone knows each other around here anyway, so it's not like I can get away with NOT doing it." He looked around the small ice cream parlor. "Speaking of which, why did we come here? I thought we would end up at Company."
Olivia looked up from smearing ice cream on a giggling Emma's nose, as his mother's eyes shot up at him in alarm. Her sudden discomfort was not lost on Rafe, but he said nothing and waited for a response. After several moments of uncomfortable silence, Olivia finally spoke, saving Natalia the explanation she instinctively knew was best saved for another time.
"Your mother and I figured we would save you from multiple explanations of why you are here to each and every person who would inevitably stop at the table and ask. Small town, yanno?"
Natalia looked thankfully at Olivia as she recovered from the question. "Besides, I want you all to myself for today, at least. That OK?" She looked down, all eyelashes and guilt for simultaneously wanting to monopolize her son's time and for avoiding the one person she didn't want to see on this joyous day. She mentally berated herself for being so selfish; for dodging Frank on a day she should feel grateful to him. But she still couldn't shake the pervasive feeling of dread the thought of seeing him evoked in her. She knew that Frank wanted to help her get Rafe out of prison. But somewhere in her there was a growing realization that you don't do something for someone because you think that's what they want; you do it because you want to. She shivered, as a memory betrayed her emotions again.
Someone who fights for me, because they want to...just because they want to.
Olivia's words swam up from her thoughts. Words spoken through winter breath on the porch that night; the night that should not have ended the way it did. Frank on bended knee as her stomach dropped in fear, feeling Olivia's eyes on her from the farmhouse window...the later kitchen conversation that went...well...horribly wrong.
Natalia shook the image from her head. Suddenly panicked and needing air, she tucked down the emotion as best she could. Distracting herself, she picked up a straw wrapper from the table, tossing it lightly at Emma. "I feel like playing on the playground! How about you?" Emma nodded emphatically, throwing the balled up wrapper right back with a devilish chuckle.
"Will you go on the teeter-totter with me, Natalia?" Emma's childlike joy lightened the load on Natalia's heart. She took the little girl's hand as they each slid from the booth.
"I wouldn't miss it!" She looked from Olivia to Rafe and back again. "Can we go play?"
Olivia's head swam with the vision of her family, almost brought to tears by the beauty of Natalia and her daughter standing together, anticipating swings and slides and teeter-totters. Once, she would have considered this mundane. She hadn't known what she was missing. "Just don't get too dirty. Otherwise I might have to do laundry."
Natalia rolled her eyes. "Mmmhmm, like that'll ever happen." Flashing a dazzling smile at Olivia and Rafe, she turned to catch up with Emma, who had broken free from her grip and was already halfway out the parlor door.
Olivia turned amused green eyes toward Rafe and smiled, acknowledging the truth of the last statement with a wink. Rafe was silent for a moment.
Catching the words lying beneath the silence, Olivia looked at him, inviting him to speak whatever he was thinking.
"You...this...this is not what I expected."
"Trust me, it's definitely not what I expected." Olivia prodded at the remains of her sundae as the conversation dwindled to silence.
"She should hate you, you know." Well there, that was said. Rafe watched Olivia for a reaction and was surprised as her head sunk.
"I know. She would have every right to. Sometimes I am still surprised that she doesn't."
"You really messed things up for her." Again he waited.
"Yeah. I did." Olivia's voice dropped almost to a whisper.
Rafe's eyes softened, as he released Olivia from his intense gaze, turning his head away shamefully. "So did I."
Olivia looked up, surprised at this turn of the conversation. She wasn't sure what she had been expecting him to say, and was deathly terrified that the wounds ran so deep that she and Rafe could not bridge them. He swallowed and turned back to face her.
"But I guess you know how forgiving my mother is, and how big her heart is."
Olivia smiled sadly. "Yeah. Yeah, I do." She braced herself with a set of her shoulders, making the decision to lay herself bare to Rafe's anger. He had every right to be angry, too and there was no other way to get through this other than honesty. "For what it's worth, Rafe...I know what I did. To your mother, to your dad..." She swallowed heavily. "To you. I know I stuck myself in and wreaked havoc on your family, and I can't express how sorry I am for that." Rafe watched her admission silently. "It's not an excuse, but...I was..."
"Dying." Rafe finished the sentence for her.
"Yeah. And I was so desperate and scared and I just...I didn't want to die alone. And I grasped onto what I thought was love, and took a lot of people down with me. There is no apology that covers that, especially after..." She didn't have to say it. "And when I got a second chance, I was so angry with myself that it took your father's death for me to live. I gave up." Olivia's eyes darkened with the memory. "Natalia...she wouldn't let me give up. She fought me every step of the way, willing me to live." She paused, clearing her throat of the sadness that had lodged there. "She has fought me every step since then, and I have fought her too, and somewhere along the way, whether I deserved it or not, I realized she was fighting for me. Not against me." She turned to look at Rafe, rolling her eyes with a smile. "She's a force of nature, your mother. I can't get rid of her." Quietly this time. "I wouldn't want to."
Rafe let Olivia's emotional confession sink in quietly. He had never seen her as vulnerable as she was at this moment. She had opened herself up to whatever reaction he could have, good or bad, and done so willingly. He could see now the depth of influence his mother had on the woman in front of him, and from all he had observed in just this one evening, it was obvious the influence went both ways.
"So why don't you want her to know it was you who got me released?" Olivia swung her eyes to meet his, and sighed.
"She just...she can't know. She doesn't take so kindly to my meddling sometimes." Olivia hadn't forgotten Natalia's reaction to how her lost hedge fund money had gotten back to her. "You know how damned independent Natalia is. And how stubborn." There was a brief pause before they nodded their heads simultaneously and chorused their agreement.
"I know she can be stubborn, but..."
Olivia peered off into space, turning back to meet the young man's brown eyes. "I don't want her gratitude, Rafe. I just want her to be happy."
Rafe contemplated Olivia's words and the look on her face, and decided he had the answers he needed to his questions. All of them. He leaned back in the booth, raised his thick eyebrows quizzically, and abruptly changed the subject. "Sooo...a farmhouse, huh, Olivia?
The laughter swelled up from beneath the intense whirlwind of emotions threatening to drown her since the start of the conversation. "Who'da thunk it, right?" She leaned back as well, relaxing into the easier subject matter. "I wouldn't have thought it could work, but it does. Somehow. And Emma loves it. She loves the open space and the barn and feeding the ducks." She remembered Natalia's gentle teasing. "I have to admit, I love the ducks."
Rafe leaned forward. "And my mother?"
"Yeah, your mom loves the ducks, too."
Gazing intently into green eyes, Rafe shook his head and spoke softly.
"That's not what I meant, Olivia."
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